Autumn reminds me of Secret of Mana

Back in 1996, my younger brother and I pooled our money together and bagged ourselves a great little SNES combo – coming to the end of the 16-bit era meant that there were good opportunities to see the other side of the fence for a small outlay (our household was a staunch Sega proponent) and enough time had passed to bury the proverbial hatchet. If memory serves, we put together around $200, which bought us a SNES Killer Instinct pack – SNES console with RF lead/AC adapter, controller, as well as a boxed copy of Killer Instinct (don’t laugh :P) and an extra controller as a bonus. We’d been thinking about it for a while at that point, as one of my brother’s mates had a SNES and had brought it over a few times and I’d been able to play some Zelda here and there, and one of my mates, McAdam, had snapped up a SNES the X-Mas prior to ’96 and had introduced me to the awesomeness of a rented copy of Secret of Mana one weekend. To complete the peer pressure, another mate from school got me hooked on Killer Instinct (again, stop laughing!). So, we took the plunge. Or rather, my little brother went away on camp for a weekend, so Mum and I went out to the mall and grabbed a SNES pack, and I picked up a copy of Secret of Mana for myself. The only catch was that I wasn’t allowed to play the SNES or even open it until he came back from his trip. It did make for an awesome Sunday evening of gaming though, and 3:30pm couldn’t come fast enough the next day at school ๐Ÿ™‚

The time of year we got the SNES was when it starts to get a bit of a cold snap in the evening (well, “cold” by Australian standards anyway), so whenever we get a burst of cold like we’re getting at the moment, it reminds me of cranking out the SNES for the first time, and just as importantly, playing Secret of Mana with my brothers.

There was so much about the game that made it special – despite the nonsensical plot thanks to the game’s initial development as a Super CD title, there was so much to love about it. The graphics were pure 16-bit era Japanese development – colourful, charming and packed to the rafters with great animation and flourishes. The music was absolutely amazing – the SPC700 was able to do some amazing stuff, but the quality of the compositions for Secret of Mana were enchanting, especially since my other 16-bit adventures were dominated by the Mega Drive’s synth which didn’t have anywhere near the range of features of the SNES’ audio system (that being said, there’s a particular charm to what some of the better developers were able to pull off with the Mega Drive’s audio setup). But more than all of that, the game was so much fun to play and accessible. While the AI was a bit stupid, playing the game with someone else made it so much more fun and broke down a lot of barriers that surrounded the RPG systems in the 16-bit era. While I was already a JRPG convert thanks to the sublime Phantasy Star 2 (thanks to my brother Miguel on that one, and for starting me on the RPG path with the SSI-developed D&D games on the C64 and PC before that), it was great to see those concepts presented in such a different format. The only bummer is that I never got to play through the game on 3-player mode – my younger brother managed to do this with some of his mates when they rented a multitap from one of the neighbourhood video stores, and he assures me that it was awesome.

As much as I adore this game, there are two things about it that saddens me – first of all, the direct sequel, Seiken Densetsu 3, never got an official English release by Squaresoft (instead we got Secret of Evermore, which while not as polished, actually isn’t too shabby if you can psychologically separate it from the former when playing it). Secondly, all the games since the SNES games have arguably been rubbish. I remember downloading trailers for Legend of Mana on the PSX off Gaming Age on my old dial-up connection and being absolutely gobsmacked by some amazing hand-drawn visuals and sublime audio. Sadly, the final game featured a terrible translation and didn’t carry anywhere near the charm and persistent game world that the SNES games had. Fast forward to the PS2, and we get Dawn of Mana, yet another terrible interpretation of the franchise. Thankfully, the 3-party action-RPG spirit lived on in the excellent Kingdom Hearts games, but even that’s bittersweet – the natural extension of the engine that powered Kingdom Hearts would have made a natural base to build up a living, breathing and colourful world to set a new Mana game that echoed the successes of old. Such a wasted opportunity.

If I could make one last-ditched and naive request to SquareEnix, it would be this – create a HD remake of Secret of Mana with glorious 2D artwork, and tell the story that you originally wanted to tell before the game got chopped apart to fit the limited space of a cartridge. I’m not asking for voice work or anything like that (because in all likelihood it means they won’t make it a bilingual release) or animated cut scenes – 3 players online or offline simultaneously, great music, beautiful spritework, the full story, digital distribution (to reduce costs, though I’d love a physical release). I have a feeling SquareEnix like money, and this kind of project would be a virtual printer of cash. At least in my naive view of the current state of video gaming.

The Rocket Knight Adventures revisit looks promising (new trailer!)

Rocket Knight Adventures on the Mega Drive was/is awesome. When I was reading up via 1up and heard via their awesome nerd podcast Retronauts earlier this year that it was getting a revisit via PSN/XBLA, I was mildly excited. Some of the early promo artwork looked like it had potential, but I was still sitting on the fence.

However, after checking out an update over at PALGN and watching the trailer, I’m pleasantly surprised by how it’s shaping up:

I’m really loving the visual aesthetic here – there’s a classic storybook fantasy feel to the visuals that looks great, and the animation and particle effects are spot on. I didn’t have the speakers on while watching it though, so not sure on the direction with the audio. Hopefully it’s not poxy!

The original Mega Drive game in the series featured everything that made Konami such a powerhouse back in the 16- and 32-bit eras, with loving attention to detail on the visuals, great music perfectly suited to the hardware, plenty of colour, passion, spot-on controls, innovation and even a little story to boot! While the sequel on the Mega Drive was in comparison pretty disappointing (I’m guessing a different team handled it), the concept was still fun. The only game in the series I never got a chance to play was Sparkster on the SNES. I really should track it down though, Konami made some brilliant games on the SNES.

So yes, new Rocket Knight Adventures game for May. Can’t wait ๐Ÿ˜€

Raving to Yuzo Koshiro in a Tokyo club

A friend posted a link to this in a discussion we were having via a message board online, and since I’d never heard of this being possible, thought it deserves some linkage:

For those not in the know, Yuzo Koshiro is an absolute genius when it comes to getting the Mega Drive’s Yamaha YM2612 chip to do some amazing stuff (though to be honest, Koshiro had a habit of making the entire chipset do some amazing stuff). The music for Streets of Rage 2 is probably my favourite of his work, though big ups should go to the amazing work he did creating a symphony out of the Mega Drive for Story of Thor, and for some amazing early work on Revenge of Shinobi.

I always thought back when I was younger that the quality of the audio in Streets of Rage 2 demanded more attention. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, it’s nice to see it was a success ๐Ÿ˜€

Seasonal gaming habits and associations

This one’s a little left-of-center, but I thought I’d post it anyhows.

I’ve found over the years that, just as musos will track periods of time in their lives or historical phases by the music associated therewith, I have begun over the years to do the same thing with video games. I see this happening on two levels, micro (annual seasons/events) and macro (periods of time).

The most recent/up-coming example of Micro Gaming Associations (let’s give it a fancy acronym – MiGA – yeah!) would be Easter. And it’s a completely irrational.

Back in March 1993, my brothers and I pooled our resources and sold off our Sega Master System, all our controllers (bar one or two we left behind, came in handy for 1-button games like Sonic or Sonic 2 on the Mega Drive) and all our games in order to pool the $300 for a Sega Mega Drive (original model, without the serial port though) pack that included Sonic 1 and vouchers to get Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (boo!) and Columns (uber). I’ll leave the full, drawn-out story for a later post, but suffice to say we picked one up and come Easter, we had a Mega Drive, and it was the greatest thing to ever happen in the history of the universe to my pre-pubescent brain.

So, I still remember clearly on the morning of Good Friday, after partaking in copius amounts of hot cross buns (yum), I jumped in front of the telly and played – of all things – Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. It was an awesome game in 1993, and while it’s probably a bit on the rubbish side, is still a lot of fun today. If you’re irrational like myself.

So, for the last couple of years I’ve gone to the habit of digging out Moonwalker and give the game a crack around Easter time because of the association with the season – in fact, if you check out my 10 April 2009 gaming session gallery, you’ll find a few pics from the first stage of Moonwalker ๐Ÿ™‚ The same thing may happen this weekend ๐Ÿ˜€

Thus, when Easter comes around, you can count on me firing up the old 16-bit beast and having a crack at Moonwalker. But what about other seasons? Let’s have a think…

MiGA list:

  • Seasons –
    • Summer: Shenmue (Dreamcast), Asuka 120% Limited (Saturn), Wonderboy in Monster World (Mega Drive), Sonic 2 (Master System)
    • Autumn: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (Sega Mega Drive), Super Mario All-Stars (SNES), Donkey Kong Country (SNES), Secret of Mana (SNES), Sonic 2 (Sega Mega Drive), Skies of Arcadia (Dreamcast), Ico (Playstation 2)
    • Winter: Phantasy Star 4 (Mega Drive), Rocket Knight Adventures (Mega Drive), Ghostbusters (Mega Drive), TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist (Mega Drive), Zelda: A Link To The Past (SNES), Super Metroid (SNES), Dragon Force (Saturn), Magic Knight Rayearth (Saturn), Vampire Savior (Saturn), Saturn Bomberman (Saturn), Sonic 1 (Master System)
    • Spring: Road Avenger (Mega CD), Sonic CD (Mega CD), Thuderhawk (Mega CD), Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter (Sega Saturn), Panzer Dragoon (Saturn), Panzer Dragoon Saga (Saturn), Mortal Kombat (Mega Drive), Street Fighter 2: Special Championship Edition (Mega Drive)
  • Holidays –
    • Christmas: Shenmue (Dreamcast), NiGHTS (Saturn), Virtua Fighter 2 (Saturn), Story of Thor (Mega Drive), Sonic 2 (Master System)
    • Easter: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (Mega Drive), Golden Axe 2 (Mega Drive), Sonic 2 (Mega Drive)

It’s a bit illogical and extremely inconsistent, but I thought I’d share anyhows ๐Ÿ™‚

So what about Macro Gaming Associations (MaGA to keep things going) – for the purpose of my ranting and raving, I’ll use these to define where particular games emphasised or are representational of a period of years or within a particular generation of game systems. This one’s still a bit hazy/inconsistent compared to the former which I’ve spent more time thinking about, so bear with me for this more randomised list. Note that like the above, these are representational of my personal bias, hence why some systems/games aren’t represented and why some games that may have come out in other periods are represented out of date. Where games represent the period and were ported to numerous systems, I’ve placed them in favoured order of association. Thus, if a game came out on the C64 and arcade but I spent more time playing the C64 version, that gets preference, even if the arcade original was much better.

  • Decades –
    • 1980s: Asteroids (Atari 2600), Pitfall (Atari 2600), Enduro (Atari 2600), R-Type (Commodore 64, arcade), TMNT (Commodore 64 [platformer], arcade), International Karate (Commodore 64), The Last Ninja (Commodore 64), Bad Dudes vs Dragon Ninja (Commodore 64, Amiga 500, arcade), Wizball (Commodore 64), Combat School (Commodore 64), The Great Giana Sisters (Commodore 64), Bruce Lee (Commodore 64), Outrun (Commodore 64, arcade), Afterburner 2 (Commodore 64, deluxe hyrdraulic arcade cabinet), Wonderboy (Commodore 64), Space Invaders (cocktail arcade cabinet), China Gate (arcade)
    • 1990s: Wing Commander (DOS), Space Quest 3 (DOS), Warcraft 2 (DOS), Police Quest 2 (DOS), Double Dragon 2 (NES), Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES), The Flinstones (NES), Advanced D&D Collection series (Commodore 64, DOS), Sonic 1-2 (Master System, Mega Drive), Wonderboy 1-3 (Sega Master System), Alex Kidd in Miracle World/Shinobi World (Sega Master System), Sonic 3 + Knucles (Sega Mega Drive), Gunstar Heroes (Mega Drive), Story of Thor (Mega Drive), Phantasy Star 2/4 (Mega Drive), Super Mario World (SNES), The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES), Secret of Mana (SNES), Panzer Dragoon Saga (Saturn), NiGHTS (Saturn), Guardian Heroes (Saturn), Saturn Bomberman (Saturn), Virtua Fighter 2 (Saturn), Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast), Soul Calibur (Dreamcast), Daytona 8-way linkup (arcade), Last Bronx (arcade, Saturn), Sega Rally 2 (arcade), X-Men vs Street Fighter (arcade, Saturn), Dead or Alive (arcade, Saturn), House of the Dead 2 (arcade, Dreamcast), Street Fighter 2/CE/HF/Super/Super Turbo (arcade), Metal Slug (arcade, Saturn), King of Fighters ’96 (arcade, Saturn), Crazy Taxi (arcade, Dreamcast)
    • 2000s: Shenmue 1-2 (Dreamcast), Dead or Alive 2 (Dreamcast, arcade, Playstation 2), Skies of Arcadia (Dreamcast), Chu Chu Rocket (Dreamcast), Powerstone 2 (Dreamcast), Gauntlet Legends (Dreamcast), Ico (Playstation 2), Kingdom Hearts (Playstation), Viewtiful Joe (Gamecube), Tales of Phantasia (Gamecube), The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker (Gamecube), Panzer Dragoon Orta (XBox)
  • Generations (in order of preference/emphasised experience) –
    • 8-bit: Atari 2600, Commodore 64, NES
    • 16-bit: Mega Drive, SNES, DOS
    • 32-bit: Saturn
    • 128-bit: Dreamcast, Gamecube, Playstation 2, XBox

Like I said, irrational, huh?

I think a special point needs to be made on the inclusion of the PS2 and the whole 128-bit gen note above – it’s actually all to Wifey’s credit that I had a big love of the PS2 in the last generation, as I was irrationally opposed to it on principle (being a bit of a Sega fanboy :P), but it garnered quite the soft spot in the end. It was also the first time I’d been in a financial position to actually get use of all the consoles in a single generation, so it’s quite interesting in that respect.

To be honest, I think I like the first list based on MiGA better than the second, as I feel like I’m making more of a randomised, generated list of games tied to extremely large swaths of time with the MaGA list, and the former seems more personal in its choices… but then again, when I think back on time periods, those are the games that stand out, at least at the moment I’m writing up this post.

I’ll have a thorough chuckle if either of these concepts get picked up anywhere else, or how many people throw on the rose-tinted glasses and look back on their classic games like this. I suspect I’m not the only one, but at the same time I don’t think I have my finger on the pulse in any way.

Anywho, I hope you enjoyed that long-winded return to retro gaming blogging. I promise I’ll start getting back into regular posting from now on!

Gaming sessions – 4 January 2009

Obviously I was enjoying my last weekend before heading back to work around that time ๐Ÿ™‚

Anywho, played through a couple of retro games – first up are a few screen caps of Asterix on the SMS. This was the first game I bought for my SMS after I got it for my birthday back in 1992, and I bought it primarily based on the cover and the fact I liked the Asterix cartoons I saw on TV and the comics I read ๐Ÿ™‚ Turned out to be an awesome purchase, it still holds up as a great platformer today.

The cool thing about it is that I actually finished the game in one sitting – I’d never finished it when I was a kid, so that was pretty awesome. The last screen is of the ending.

Next up is Rocket Knight Adventures, an absolute cracking piece of original IP from Konami on the Mega Drive. While the sequel was pretty lackluster on the SMD (must have been a different studio working on it), this one exudes charm, precision, beauty and a bit of typically Japanese quirkiness. I originally got this one for my birthday in… 1994 I think, I still remember playing it for a few minutes before school that day too!

I was actually sending the pics in this set to my brother who is teaching up in the country while I was playing – he paid me out for pausing the game to take screen shots, so there are a few in there I slipped in whilst trying not to die ๐Ÿ˜›

Finally there’s Jeffrey from Virtua Fighter Kids on the Saturn. Because he’s awesome.